twitter is not question period.

I had an interesting exchange on Twitter this afternoon with Brian Mason, leader of Alberta’s NDP and MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood. After discovering his new blog this weekend, I posted a link on Twitter and noted the irony in Mr. Mason’s new social media presence following criticisms he made about the Alberta Party‘s focus on social media (it also seems silly to me that the leader of the fourth largest party would spend time criticizing the fifth largest party).

My tweet was only intended as a passing comment and in hindsight I should have known that it might be interpreted differently. Here is a thread of the main conversation (see here for more):

@davcournoyer: After criticizing the @AlbertaParty for focusing on social media, NDP leader Brian Mason has started a blog: http://is.gd/LQgPdv #ableg

@bmasonndp: @davecournoyer @AlbertaParty Didn’t say that, as you well know. #ABLEG

@davecournoyer: @bmasonNDP I’m glad that you are joining the broader conversation, but you can’t deny your previous comments about social media. #ableg

@davecournoyer: @bmasonNDP “The Alberta Party is selling snake oil via social media,” #ableg

@davecournoyer: @bmasonNDP “Some of them think they can Tweet their way into power.” #ableg

@davecournoyer: @bmasonNDP Your past comments aside, I’m glad that you’re starting the blog and look forward to some interesting “insider” posts. #ableg

@bmasonndp: @davecournoyer Let’s be clear: comments were about the AB Party & its use of SM, NOT about the utility of SM itself. #ABLEG

@bmasonndp: @davecournoyer Dave, if you delivered your message via pony express, it would still be snake oil.

@davecournoyer: @bmasonNDP I’m not sure you can tweet your way out of this one. Previous comments were cheap shot soundbites, at least admit that. #ableg

@bmasonndp: @davecournoyer One party’s “cheap shot” is another party’s “clever one-liner” Dave. Point is, they were shots at AB party, not at SM. #ableg

@djkelly: @bmasonNDP How does berating @davecournoyer via twitter earn you votes? I voted NDP last time. Seriously rethinking now.

@denny1h: @djkelly so when @davecournoyer or anyone makes false or misleading statements in a public forum @bmasonndp should ignore them?

@djkelly: @denny1h Heck no. He should politely refute him. Why stoop?@davecournoyer @bmasonndp

@davecournoyer: @djkelly @denny1h I don’t take offence from @bmasonndp‘s response. For politicians used to QP, it might take a bit to get used to Twitter.

@djkelly: @davecournoyer Yes, twitter is not QP. It’s more like a town hall. Have to behave differently in the two. Ditto here. @denny1h @bmasonndp

In 2009, Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain gave one the  best descriptions of Twitter that I have read: “The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful.” So true.

Although the NDP Caucus have been using social media as part of their communications for a few years now, Twitter is a different medium than most politicians are accustomed to.

While many Alberta Party supporters have become passionate Tweeters, for many of them it is the time they have been involved in a political party and some of them easily take offence to such criticisms. They should not. They should learn from them and move on.

As @DJKelly mentioned in his tweet, Twitter is more like a Town Hall. The interaction on Twitter are less useful when focused on partisan and soundbite-filled confrontation encouraged in traditional political institutions like Question Period, and more useful when focused on actual collaboration and discussion. In my mind, this is one of the qualities that makes social media much more engaging and useful than some of our traditional political institutions.

It has been my experience that in order to fully understand Twitter, it is best to use it for a while. @Nenshi@DonIveson@MinisterJono, and @GriffMLA are four good examples of elected officials in our province who have demonstrated that they understand how to use the medium.

At the first Changecamp Edmonton event in October 2009, the question was asked: How do we re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation? At the time, Justin Archer wrote a great column about why this question is critically important and why it is important to re-think our government systems in order to ensure that they are still relevant for us.

Many of the discussions that I had with participants at Changecamp Edmonton and the many friendships that I developed at of that event helped reshape how I view politics and political engagement today. This includes how social media can be used to engage with our elected officials and government leaders.

Today’s exchange may not be exactly what I had in mind when I think of the ideas discussed at Changecamp, but it did teach me a lesson about how to engage with elected officials new to social media. I hope that even after his 22 years in politics, that Mr. Mason will learn and grow from his social media experiences as well.

16 thoughts on “twitter is not question period.

  1. Brian Mason

    I take your point, Dave. I’ve spent half my time in politics taking on the Tory spin machine, and maybe it’s made me over-sensitive to being misinterpreted. And it’s hard to pass up a good line when it occurs to me.

    I’m sure I will acclimatize, as I’m sure others will get used to me. (this is reminding me of the Lord’s Prayer). Peace.

    ps. here’s my take on the scene today: http://brianmasonndp.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/brian-mason-doing-social-media-wrong-since-yesterday/

    http://brianmasonndp.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/brian-mason-doing-social-media-wrong-since-yesterday/

    Reply
  2. daveberta Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Brian.

    I’m sure that you’ll get acclimatized. Just remain open minded to the medium and you should do fine. Good work on the blog, btw. I hope that you keep it up.

    Cheers,

    Dave

    Reply
  3. Mimi Williams

    While it is clear that Mason is not savvy to the medium (he had a grand total of 23 or 24 tweets prior to the exchange, I believe) and it WAS odd that a party leader would engage in such a trivial, highly public back-and-forth exchange when he probably could have found other, more outreachy-in-a-positive-way, um, ways to break his teeth on twitter, Dave, the mom/ref in me calls that you did start this little twibble.

    Incredibly long run-on sentence above aside, I would hope that we’ve all got better things to debate than who came late to the Web 2.0 party.

    While I was mildly amused this afternoon (recapped again here) watching the boys (term used intentionally and I will also note, as an aside, that no women jumped into the silly fray) comparing whose tweet was larger, at the end of the day, it was not all that helpful to those of us who are having trouble being inspired by anything or anybody these days. Just sayin’….

    Reply
  4. Ab_baby

    Good observations, dave.but I’m puzzled. Not long ago you used@ministerjono as an example of what NOT to do on twitter, when he made an insulting and rather vacuous comment about (ironically) mr.mason, and then tried to erase it and pretend it never happened (typical pc tactic). in that instance, contrary to “minster” jono, brian exhibited grace and maturity. So while I’m not really impressed with mason”s part in this particular dialogue,i think jono still has some growing up to do when it comes to social media and really does not belong on your list. I completely agree with the others, tho.

    Reply
  5. daveberta Post author

    Ab_Baby: Thanks for the comment. I do think that Minister Denis’ April 2009 twitter comments were unfortunate, but since then it is my observations that he has become a good example of an elected official using twitter effectively.

    Reply
  6. Jason

    Is twitter more like a town-hall than question period? Yes. Because everyone listening can also speak and be heard by all the others who are listening.

    Is it more “useful” when used for substantive conversations than sound-bites?

    No. It’s useful for whatever you want to use it for. Sound-bites and substantive conversation are two different ways of using it that serve different purposes.

    Let’s not pretend that twitter is less partisan than question period. It’s just more democratic. Which is good enough.

    Reply
  7. Joe Albertan

    Twitter isn’t question period. But neither are blogs. Blogs give the opportunity for anonymous people to say what they really mean though without fear of being run out of the province.

    Reply
  8. Jeff Sloychuk

    Heya Dave,

    I hate to say it, but Mimi’s called you out on this one. Not only does it appear that “you started it” (that looks kinda amusing written out, doesn’t it), but in past posts you’ve delved into some of your personal distaste for Brian’s political style and form, which hardly makes you an objective observor in this instance. Hell, when Brian delivers the best sound byte of the week you ignore it – but when that byte sticks in your craw, it seems to stay there for months!

    So, I guess my comment is this: In light of your personal connection to the Alberta Party, and what looks like your own bruised feelings as the result of a pithy, if perhaps unfortunate, one-liner by Mason, was his response really that inappropriate?

    Combined with your perhaps unconscious desire to shoot back a little inaccurately in the Twitter forum, I don’t think it was. Does that make me a bad person in the idyllic social media town hall land?

    Also, I have to ask: If this had been any other opposition politician, would you really have devoted an entire post to this?

    Of course, I’m an avid reader, and will continue to read despite occasional SM silliness…

    Reply
  9. Kevin S

    @ Joe Albertan imposter, you mean like impersonating somebody and having a website host like Dave that panders to it? Blogs are the common mans voice. Unless you haven’t figured it out Dave that comment would include you.

    Reply
  10. daveberta Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Jeff. I’m not sure that I’ve ever claimed to be an objective observer on this blog, though I try my best not to wear a partisan hat when I write this blog.

    Like any good blogger, I dish and complement politicians when I think they deserve it and Mr. Mason is no exception. Personal feelings aside, I’ve dished and complemented him when I thought he deserved it. In this case, I think any opposition MLA would have deserved a blog post like this. Live and learn.

    Cheers,

    Dave

    Reply
  11. Fran Irwin, Medicind Hat

    This sensitivity between Mason and Dave (read Alberta Party) is understandable as both attempt to keep their footings with the left-of-centre voter. Thank you for the discussion of Justin A.’s article.

    Reply

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